Accounting for “moral betterment”: Pastoral power and indentured Aboriginal apprenticeship programs in New South Wales

Susan Greer, Patty McNicholas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to analyse the roles of accounting within state-based agencies which interpreted the ideal of protection for the Aboriginal population as principally about the removal of children from the Aboriginal communities to institutions of training and places of forced indenture under government-negotiated labour contracts. Design/methodology/approach: The study uses the original archival records of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection and Welfare Boards (1883-1950) to highlight the link between pastoral notions of moral betterment and the use of accounting technologies to organise and implement the “apprenticeship” programmes. Findings: The analysis reveals that accounting practices and information were integral to the ability of the state to intervene and organise this domain of action and, together with a legal framework, to make the forced removal of Aboriginal children possible. Social implications: The mentalities and practices of assimilation analysed in the paper are not unique to the era of “protection”. The study provides a history of the present that evokes the antecedents to recent welfare policy changes, which encompass a political rationality directed at the normalisation of the economic and social behaviours of both indigenous and non-indigenous welfare recipients. Originality/value: The paper provides an historical example of how the state enlisted accounting and legal technologies to construct a crisis of “neglect” and to intervene to protect and assimilate the Aboriginal children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1843-1866
Number of pages24
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Aboriginal peoples
  • Accounting history
  • Governmentality
  • Pastoral power

Cite this